Don’t look now, or maybe you should.
In fact, you have to look closely to see what appears to have happened Saturday in the Toyota Center in Houston at the Halal Guys Showcase.
At first glance it looks like No. 19 Texas simply had its way with a consistently inconsistent LSU team.
At first blush, a hot-shooting Texas (8-2) jumped out to a 19-point halftime lead against a sluggish LSU 6-5), pumped that lead up to 22 points in the first minute of the second half and the Longhorns held serve for a 96-85 win – most would say – as expected.
But there was more going on for LSU in the second half than may have met the eye.
What was shocking but still easy to see was LSU’s Jordan Wright took control.
Wright scored 31 points in the final 20 minutes of action, finishing with a career-high and game-high 33 points.
In the end, Wright led four Tigers who scored in double figures – Jalen Cook and Derek Fountain added 13 points each, and Hunter Dean scored 11 points.
What was perhaps most significant though for an LSU team that has been in a severe competitive drought for more than a year is the Tigers appear to have turned a corner.
LSU beat up Texas – a nationally ranked team – in the second half.
The Tigers outscored the Longhorns, 48-40 in the final 20 minutes.
LSU was clearly the more physical team and even bullied Texas on both sides of the floor.
LSU became the aggressor on defense and on the offensive boards and cut the Longhorns lead down to seven, 70-63, with 9:34 to play in the game on a driving layup by Wright after a Texas turnover.
LSU played noticeably different than it has at any point this season against the stiffest competition it has yet to face, not to mention all last season.
Texas did not ease off its throttle, either.
It could be merely a coincidence, but it didn’t appear to be.
It looked like Cook’s return made the difference.
Cook playing in his first game since transferring back to LSU from Tulane after an Ohio district judge’s ruling last Wednesday released Cook and every other player in the country who was being denied playing eligibility while waiting for the NCAA to rule on their appeals, took a while to get in the groove, but his command on the floor in the second half empowered Wright and the Tigers to literally surge to a higher-level, more fluid level of play.
Texas’ Max Abmas had 20 points and seven assists while Tyrese Hunter added a season-high 19 points. Dylan Disu, returning from an injury, scored 17 points in his first action of the season and Dillon Mitchell had 12 points and 10 rebounds for Texas.
The Longhorns shot 54% from the field and made 10 of 20 from 3-point range.
LSU shot 46% and made 11 shots from beyond the arc.
Texas jumped out to an 18-5 lead on a three-point play by Disu with 14:30 remaining in the first half.
LSU closed within 38-28 with six minutes to go in the first half, but Texas answered with a 10-2 run to increase its lead to 18 on a layup by Ze’rik Onyema with four minutes remaining in the first half.
After Texas extended the lead to 61-39 early in the second half, LSU answered with a 24-9 run to cut the lead to seven on a layup by Wright with 9:34 remaining.
While that would be as close as the Tigers would get, it did not negate LSU most consistently impressive 20 minutes of basketball, perhaps in the Matt McMahon era.
LSU has two more chances to embrace its apparently new identity and get used to playing with Cook in command on the floor. The Tigers host Lamar (5-5) on Thursday night at 8 PM in the PMAC.
It appears to be worth a look-see.